Introducing Chris Lauzon
Chris is a former WordPress guy who helped people build websites. Chris is now a consultant helping various startups and nonprofits ramp up sales and support teams.
Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress.
Liam: We ask questions, and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives.
Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is episode 96.
Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Liam Dempsey.
Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today we’re joined by Chris Lauzon, a farmer WordPress guy who helped people build websites. Chris is now a consultant helping various startups and nonprofits ramp up sales and support teams. Welcome, Chris. It’s great to have you here today.
Chris: Hey, there. Great to be here.
Liam: Hey, Chris. Thanks for joining us. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself more than what Tara shared?
Chris: Yeah. I’m a huge nerd just generally. I love helping people a whole lot. Tech support has been my passion since about 2001. I’ve done internet tech support, hardware support, but my real passion is for SAS and working in SAS businesses. Since then, I’ve grown up, gotten older, gotten wiser. I’m working with a lot of different technologies now. I have a lot of great coworkers I’m working with. I’ve made a lot of good friends in tech community that serves as a great black book for me whenever I need help in the wider support community.
Liam: That’s really cool. I want to jump right in and ask you about the work you’re doing now as a consultant. Tara shared that you’re helping startups and nonprofits wrap up sales and support teams. Are you doing that then from a tech standpoint? Are you doing it from more of an HR standpoint? Is it a collective of both? What does your services look like? What do your services look like?
Chris: Well, I don’t know how many people have ever worked for early stage startups, but you could sit down with somebody and go, “Hey, I need you to do just tech support. I need you to take a little bit of product, take a look at our support tickets and our ecosystem, and then give us recommendations for how to build teams and what you do and all that kind of stuff.” But what actually happens is that you jump in, and stuff happens because early-stage startups especially can be very chaotic. A person will end up, if they’re doing things correctly, at least or painting in there correctly, they will be wearing multiple hats. So for me, I have sales experience, support experience, marketing experience, HR experience, product management experience and technically QA experience, just because throughout the years I’ve had to wear so many different hats at once. It’s just the nature of the beast. Every day there’s something different, new week comes new challenges, and that’s just how it goes. It’s a roller coaster that sometimes…Well, most of the time it’s fun.
Tara: It sounds like you have so many things to choose from. What’s your favorite?
Chris: I don’t have a favorite. I like to kind of go all over the place – and it’s part of why I love working with smaller companies. I generally prefer just smaller teams in general because I’m able to jump all over the place. With a bigger company, it feels like a lot of roles starts to part in and you start to have almost kind of mini walled gardens within your company where you have the sales department, they do the sales stuff, and the support department, they do the support stuff. I like all of the above usually.
Liam: So you’re jumping in and putting out whatever the biggest fire is, and then as that starts to get under control, you look at the other fires around and begin to try to build systems that help prevent fires?
Chris: Yeah. It’s more like trying not to put too much gasoline on the fire.
Liam: That’s awesome. So how are you getting new clients in the door? How does that work for you? And how long have you been a consultant in this current iteration of your career?
Chris: I don’t even know anymore. About over a year, has it been? Two years? I don’t remember now. Maybe it’s about a year. The people I work with haven’t changed that much. I’m pretty loyal. Once I like working with somebody, I’ll work with them long term. Where I get the most action in terms of different types of work switching around is in the nonprofit area. I live in Ventura, California, which is kind of like a beach community, and there’s community college that has actually a pretty decent computer science program. Additionally, we’re not that far away from like UC Santa Barbara, which also has a pretty interesting tech community. There’s some strange tech startups that actually are based out here in an area like Lynda. I think LinkedIn has a huge office here now. And a couple of places like that. So I’ve been really trying to do things online with different groups of people and starting some things where we can try to get more diversity into startups. Specifically, a lot more women just because they’re so underrepresented right now with all the different tech startups here in the area. So just doing stuff like that has been a lot more in flux, just because with like a nonprofit or a meetup group, or something like that, there’s momentum that starts to pick up. And if something takes off, the group becomes very, very big and that becomes kind of self-sustainable, and I move on from the organizational aspect, though I stay within that community and participate in it. But I’m no longer the leader or organizer or anything like that. That’s kind of where I get the most action. The way I get those customers is just a word of mouth. I’m a big believer in with the people I’ve met throughout my career, the ones that are really, really good, and just know what you’re talking about the whole time, so I always try to stay in touch with them and vice versa. They do the same with me. So more often than not, if I really desperately need to work on something else because I’m bored or whatever, I can usually just shout out across all my different channels and say, “Hey, is anything going?” and I’ll have a list of opportunities to choose from.
Liam: That’s really cool. Thank you for sharing that. I want to chat a little bit about your community building and your efforts at diversification of the local tech startup. That’s a fantastic thing to be doing. I wonder if you can talk a little bit about the logistics of how you’re doing that. What’s a formula or approach that works for you. And it can be ad hoc. It can be like, “I just try to connect people.” I’m not saying that you figured out the magic wand and you will wave it everywhere and problems will be solved. But what are you doing and how’s that coming along?
Chris: So it goes back to why do we want to do this. Unfortunately, I worked with certain groups where they tend to tap the diversity line because it seems like the thing to do. It’s like the latest trend. And there’s like a lack of sincerity when it comes to like honestly trying to reach out to different groups of people. For the folks that I’ve been working with that have been most successful, they themselves are part of the story. They are an underrepresented memory member of the tech community, whether they themselves are a woman, they’re part of the LGBTQA community or someone with a different ethnic background that isn’t Caucasian. Those folks that step up and want to do something, are generally the ones I’ve seen…Let me go back. The ones that have experienced that that lack of diversity for themselves and wanting to not be alone anymore are usually the ones I think have the most sincere and best messaging and best outreach strategies for that. What I’m more focused on is budget, like really unsexy stuff like, this is how much it costs to have an office, this is how much email marketing campaign would be, you know, that kind of stuff. I make sure to help them as much as I can with whatever technology stack they happen to use to be successful.
Liam: Well, budget, admittedly, it’s not very sexy, but it’s how it gets done. Right?
Chris: Yeah. It’s a necessary evil that you have to think about. I mean, whether your nonprofit business, etc., you have to think about how much do things costs and plan ahead. I think businesses, especially businesses that have been funded, often don’t do that early enough. Especially when they get that big round of funding they’re like, “Whoa, we can take everybody to do a special onsite or we can take everybody to movies one day and spend all this money. We’ll worry about the budget later.” It doesn’t work that way.
Liam: That’s really cool. Thank you for that. Tara.
Tara: No, I was going to echo that. And then I was going to ask him because it sounds like he’s doing a lot to help other organization to be successful. So I wanted to ask him about success and how he defined success. So I’ll ask you that. Chris, how do you define success? What does it mean to you in your personal life, your private life, your professional life? However, you want to define it. It sounds like you are really involving yourself in other people’s success as part of that.
Chris: Professionally, do I do something to contribute positively to the business? The easiest way to measure that, obviously is, what was my revenue impact based on the work that I did. On top of that, and this has been more of a trend I’ve seen with companies I worked for in the past, seven or eight years or so, there’s generally some additional mission, some additional goal outside of just the financial impact and success of a business. Like democratizing the web is a big WordPress one, right? So contributing to that as well is really important for me. And making sure that I’m enhancing the company’s mission statement in some way. Personally, for me, I’ve had a lot of different challenges in the past couple of years. I used to define success as what ends up in my bank account and how much money I have left over after I pay my bills and what I can do with that. But ever since I’ve kind of gotten older and I have nephews and godchildren and all this kind of stuff, and I overcame a lot of health challenges myself, waking up in the morning and just appreciating the day is, for me, success on a personal level.
Tara: What kind of things do you like to do for fun?
Chris: I listen to a lot of music. A lot of music. I love video games. I love sci-fi, fantasy, movie movies and books and anything to do with that genre. I am a huge tabletop role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons [downward? 00:11:07].
Chris: Well, you’re all in on the nerd. That’s awesome. I’m right there with you. I just wanted to touch a little bit on…
Chris: Hold on one second. I’m sorry. There’s a knock on my door.
Liam: Yeah, go for it. He should unmute it just in case. That way we’ll know. You’re muted.
Tara: Do you have a timestamp? A timestamp for now by any chance?
Liam: About 19:20, 19:25 or something like that.
Chris: I’m sorry about that.
Liam: You’re good, Chris? Everything’s okay?
Chris: Yeah, it was Amazon. I work from home so we have Amazon Prime and we like Amazon Prime our toilet paper, our paper towels, our coffee, everything that we use every day. So our grocery trips are a lot less. As a result, every single day, I have people coming to my door dropping off huge boxes of stuff.
Tara: I just discovered Instacart, which does grocery shopping for you.
Chris: Instacart is my favorite.
Tara: I tried another one called Shift but Instacart is better.
Liam: What does it do?
Tara: Grocery shops for you. Personal Shopper.
Liam: We use Peapod?
Tara: This is like that but it’s more like Uber. You can shop it any store. You can shop at Costco…
Liam: What I like about Peapod is if you’ve gone…ours is connected to Giant, the grocery store, and it just pulls up your loyalty card and says, “The last time you were in the store, this is everything you bought.” “Okay.” So we’re about 20 minutes left to go in the show, so I’m going to restart the timer for 20. And then Tara, do you want to do a clap because I’m really bad at coordinating?
Tara: I don’t need to clap. I think I’ll be able to say.
Liam: All right.
Tara: I can’t tell them when I edit so it’s okay.
Liam: So we were just going to go back and revisit Chris’ definition of success. So I’ll start saying what I say, and then Chris, I’ll ask you to respond to that. Okay?
Chris: Okay. Chris, I want to go back and chat a little bit more about your personal definition of success and how that changed in recent years. And I’m paraphrasing your word, but it used to be centered on money and leftover income and those sorts of measures. And now it’s about appreciating the day. You mentioned a couple of different things there. You had some personal health challenges, and some family growth, nephews and godchildren and the like. What was that mental trends process from money to appreciating the day? Was that an overnight thing? Did that come to you in time? Was there an aha moment? Walk us through your experience?
Chris: It was overnight. It really started when I started to realize I had some serious mental health issues. But even then, I didn’t really fully manifest my appreciation for life until my doctor told me one day after an issue with my sinuses, “Hey, there’s something in your cranium that is blocking your sinuses and we need to take it out.” That just turned out to have cancer cells and that changed everything for me. So when I got went through treatment, and all that kind of stuff, and went through all the impacts of having to deal with the fallout of chemo and all that kind of stuff, I never felt sicker in my whole life. I swore to myself that in the moment I become healthy again, I will seriously change my whole entire outlook on life and reorder my priorities. And I did.
Tara: Wow. How long ago was that?
Chris: Four and a half years ago, I want to say or three and a half years ago.
Tara: Wow, congratulations.
Chris: I’m great with time, by the way. You can tell. My time race is [inaudible 00:15:25] five or six years ago?
Tara: Did you actually have brain surgery or did you have…?
Chris: They go through your nose? It’s really creepy actually. Some of the prototypes of sinus is like there’s this big, long needle that goes in and it can go in deeper and it starts crawling all over the place. It’s really creepy.
Tara: I mean, you always hear about things like this – people promising to change if they make it through things like that – and I always wonder how easy or hard it is to stick to that. It sounds like you’ve made a big commitment to it. Does it make it easier to stick to it when you have that always in the back of your mind?
Chris: Yeah. I mean, my therapist said that one of the easiest ways to get somebody to change is that they suffer from trauma, or they suffer some sort of trauma. So for me, some of the fallout of my symptoms was memory loss, losing entire months set of time of not really remembering what I did specifically. That wasn’t fun. And then just not being able to eat very consistently. Now I can, unfortunately, much to the dismay of my stomach. But just things like that. I had an issue for a period of time where I couldn’t close my right hand all the way. and it only lasted a day. I know there are people that suffer from stuff like that for a lot longer and never even get the ability to use their hand again and whatnot. But just being able to do this afterwards is a big deal for me. Like squeezing my right hand is just huge. So it was little things like that I don’t take for granted anymore.
Tara: As far as that impact on your career, and what you’re focusing on, has that led you to this sort of more mission driven agenda that you have with helping?
Chris: Yeah, it’s that, and it’s also I’m much more cognizant now of work-life balance. Less than two years ago, I had no concept of giving myself any kind of free time. My whole life was work, work, work, work, work, and that just wasn’t sustainable. Now, when I’m talking to my boss or somebody like that, and I go, “I need time off. I’m not going to have a 9 pm meeting with you, because I’m done working at 5 pm today,” I need the person I work with to respect that and understand that. It is actually one of qualifiers just working with people is like, do they respect work-life balance? Do they respect their fellow human beings time? A lot of people don’t. So that’s just an important thing to me. When I was 25, I remember being 25 and being a Support Manager, and a 36-year-old told me that he’s having a mental health issue and he wanted to take time off. And I said to him, and I totally regret saying this now, “You want to take time off because you feel sad?” Like I totally took it for granted. Now that role’s reverse, it’s like, “Wow, mental health is everything. Your health is everything.” If you have no balance in your life and bad health, you’re completely useless to any anything you do like business wise, personal life wise, hobby wise. You can’t really participate as well as other people if you don’t take care of yourself.
Tara: Wow, that’s amazing that you may remember saying that, and the impact it has on you know. Are you still in touch with that person that you said that to?
Chris: Yes. I actually helped him find a job. So I feel like I made up for it. But I actually became really good friends with him after the fact too. I told him when I got diagnosed with depression a couple of years ago that I’m a jerk and I really am really, really sorry about it.
Liam: Wow, that’s really cool. A lot of times we do things in our past and we can’t reconcile with the person that we did something to. So that’s really great. I wasn’t expecting you to say that. That’s really neat. Well, we often ask people about their biggest challenges, but I think you’ve probably touched on that quite significantly with your health issues. What about in what you do day to day in your job? What are the biggest challenges that you face there?
Chris: Just how to prioritize issues. I mentioned earlier that being in startup or tech companies in general, it’s very much like a roller coaster. You can choose how to write it if that makes sense. We’re always going to have work. There’s always going to be more work than you can do assuming the businesses growing and is successful. So just sitting down and deciding, “Okay, I’m going to work on 1, 2, 3 today, and 5, 6, 7, 8 are not going to happen. And I need to be okay with that. Because 1, 2, 3 needs to be done, and it needs to be executed perfectly. I think generally when I talk to my colleagues also their challenge is “What do I work on next? What do I prioritize next?” That’s always like the most important thing and the most important challenge.
Liam: How do you figure out what the most important thing is?
Chris: Trial and error.
Liam: Fair enough.
Chris: Failing a lot.
Liam: Yeah, right. Good. The changes, right? The most important thing this week might not be the most important thing next week. The only thing that’s changed is the environment in which we’re operating. That’s a good point. There’s no science to it. I mean, there’s some science, but it’s just a heck of a lot of art and good luck, right?
Chris: Yeah. And it’s harder and harder if the company you’re working for is producing a product that no one’s ever made before. So there’s no market standard, there’s no concept of like, “what is right and wrong in this market?” You kind of has to define that. Oftentimes, I learn more from what not to do, rather than what to do if that makes sense.
Tara: Yes. Learning from mistakes, you mean?
Liam: Yeah. How do you prioritize? Do you have a method that you use? You said trial and error, but do you have a specific way of approaching each day or each week or each month?
Chris: Yeah. Especially when I started off in a new company, I always give myself one to two months to ramp up. The first thing I want to do is do a deep dive in the product and also the ecosystem that’s wrapped around it. So an example of like WordPress. My first WordPress job was at WP Engine. I knew enough about WordPress in the e-commerce sense because I came from the e-commerce CMS world before I even came to the WordPress community. And so, I was very comfortable with e-commerce stuff all the concepts that that whole ecosystem has. With WordPress, I didn’t know anything about the blog aspect of it, the publication aspect of it. So in addition to learning how the hosting platform is going to work and how we can support customers, I obsessively read everything I possibly could about WordPress. I went to WordCamp to network with WordPress people. I got to know as much as I could about everything with WordPress. So I think a good support person who joins a company and they have a product, you should do yourself a favor and learn everything, not just how to support it: Why do people use the product? What’s the marketing? Who are the competitors? What does the whole space look like? Once you have a good understanding of that, you can then proceed to doing things like, “Okay, I know for sure, when we prioritize support tickets, for example, we need to focus on these types of customers first. I know in order for me to do that, we’re going to set up our support ticket flow in such a way that it’s going to prioritize these tickets. And it becomes kind of like a cascading waterfall effect. So essentially, in short, you know the product, you know the ecosystem. And then from there, you can kind of start guessing, “Okay, if we do this and this what happens?” And you just give it time to kind of fester a little bit and mature and grow. After like a month or so, we take a look at the metrics and say like, “Where does our satisfaction rating stand? What’s the feedback from our customers? Let’s do some customer development and figure out and hear their perspective as well. And most importantly, where is our MR right now?” Based on all that, you just kind of rinse and repeat. And the more you do it, the more you can perfect things and start narrowing down more what you should be working on. For me, when you get to that point, then you can start saying, “Okay, today, we need to work on documentation, so I need the support team to focus more in documentation today, rather than support tickets. Or there is an outage, please drop all side projects and do only support tickets.” That’s kind of how it works. Sometimes you don’t get to decide how to prioritize things. In the [sport? 00:24:53] world, if a bug gets released into the world, or even something like that doesn’t even directly impact you. Because like the other day, for example, Facebook was down, and there were products that use Facebook ask to use it, and there were you know, all kinds of things just stopped working. I actually had some customers that use, I think it was HubSpot. They use HubSpot, they use like Facebook’s off with the HubSpot account and it dropped the whole HubSpot. So little things like that they come up and as a support person you have to deal with it and just go with the flow.
Tara: Jeez. I thought there was some flag and support that when they saw my name coming through that I would be the first priority. I guess that’s not the way it works, is it?
Chris: Well, it depends.
Tara: This is squeaky wheel gets the grease. Is that how it works?
Tara: We like to ask another question on this show with everyone, which is about advice. So I’ll ask you if you have any advice that someone has shared with you that you can pass along that you’ve implemented in your own life. One piece of advice that’s really stuck with you
Chris: Never ever stop growing. A human being either improves or they start falling apart. It’s like a muscle. If you work it out, it will remain strong or get stronger. If you do not work it out, it will atrophy. For me, my talent is its own muscle, like my ability to do support and do sales and communicate and consult. I have to actively, constantly learn new things, make contacts with people, have conversations with people about how they do things in their company and learn from them. Even if it’s somebody that is new to working. Like I got a tweet last night about…I’m doing something right now with systems API, doing a little project. And I had contacted this support person I knew who I vaguely remember from a WordCamp and he was 15 years younger than means and this is his first tech support job. But just the way he approached explaining everything to me was done in such a way I never had heard it that way before. And I just thought it was masterful. So it doesn’t matter how talented somebody is or how experienced they are, they will have their own perspective. And any person can inspire you to grow and change and learn.
Liam: That’s a great bit of advice. I like that. How do you address that holistically? If we’re never going to stop growing, there’s a lot of different ways to do so. You talked about how your I’ll say growing professionally by learning more and talking to people and reading and staying active there. What about the other things in life? You know, the personal side, the inner growth, the physical growth of our bodies are aging or what have you. What are your thoughts on that? How do you manage that? What do you prioritize? What works for you? How do you live that advice?
Chris: It has to be intentional at all times. Like I woke up this morning, it was 5 am. I just couldn’t sleep. I could lay in bed and read Facebook and Twitter or I can get my lazy butt up and go run. There’s no like holisticness to that. It’s a choice. You have to be methodical and do things on purpose to be able to grow. I’ve never naturally started jogging just for the heck of it. I have to like put on my outfit stretch, start running, stop for a second think okay, “I think I’ve gone long enough. No, it’s only been five minutes. Keep going, keep going.” And then just keep going.
Liam: Yeah, I like that. I like that. Let me ask you a little bit about what Tara shared about you earlier in our conversation as a former WordPress guy. Tell us a little bit about that. What was your foray into WordPress and what did you do? You shared where you are now but what was your engagement with WordPress? And it sounds like you’re doing a lot community wise now out there. I’m not sure. I wonder what your engagement with the WordPress community has been over the years.
Chris: I mean, I love the WordPress community. Some of my best friends are still full-time WordPress people. Bless them. I want WordPress to succeed. I think more open source is great. For me, even by the time I got to WP Engine, I was already seven years in working on content management systems. Granted they were for e-commerce but they were nonetheless content management systems. And everything was about building websites. Even after a period of time, the same questions I got working at my first e-commerce company were identical to the WordPress questions I got. How do I make something look this way that way? So I just got a little burned out with that part of everything and I really wanted to do something completely different. So I wanted to stay away from the content management system piece entirely. And the things that excited me were just things like documentation tools, AI, VR, chatbots, all the crazy stuff that is kind of brand new. That’s what’s keeping me awake and excited at night working on. So WordPress, WP Engine was awesome. I worked out [inaudible 00:30:31]. That was awesome too. Everybody that I know in the WordPress community are some of the smartest, most caring wonderful people I’ve ever met. And it’s a very supportive community. I know if I go on Twitter sometimes it may not seem that way, especially lately, but I know so many people in the WordPress community that are the main drivers of the whole community and their hearts are made of pure gold and they really want to make the world better. And I love that about everybody.
Tara: I agree. That’s been my experience and many of the people that we’ve spoken to. I think we’re all invested in that WordPress community and it inspires you to kind of give back to it as well. What kind of things have you done? Do you have a local community there that you participate in still?
Chris: We used to have one. If you’ve ever been to Ventura before, the whole Ventura County area is very spread apart. So it’s very hard to build any kind of a community. I had more success just doing it online, like having Zoom sessions with people all across Ventura County. I’ve definitely been inspired by watching people put together WordCamp and stuff like that. We did have WordCamp Ventura. I think it was 2014 once and it was actually great. And it was awesome because I was like a 50 person WordCamp, which I’ve never been to a WordCamp that small before. But it was awesome. It was intimate. It was great. WordCamp LA, WordCamp Orange County still happen around here. I haven’t been in one of those in a while. I don’t know if I plan to anytime soon but my partner is very active in the WordPress community still so I still get to hear about all the fun WordPress stuff.
Liam: Yeah, that must be interesting to be outside looking in and fun memories. But also you talked about wanting to move on and seeing new challenges that way. So kind of come back in when you want and stay away when it’s right for you. We’ve got just a little bit of time here left, and before we say goodbye to you, Chris, I want to thank you for joining us out here in our virtual Hallway. I want to ask you where people can find you online, please.
Chris: I have a Twitter account @squireX2. I’m not that active on Twitter, though. I do have a Facebook account. Some people can find it, but it’s mostly for private stuff. My favorite spot for people to find me on is on Instagram @squireX2. I love food, I love Disneyland, and I love nerdy stuff so you’ll see a lot of pictures of me during all that kind of stuff. It’s really just the best place to follow me.
Tara: That sounds great. I’ll have to check it out. Thanks so much for joining us, Chris. It’s really been a pleasure chatting with you and we appreciate your sharing with us today.
Chris: Oh, thank you.
Liam: Thanks, Chris. Will talk to you soon. Bye.
Liam: Thanks for listening to the show. We sure hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.
Tara: If you like what we’re doing here – meeting new people in our WordPress community – we invite you to tell others about it. We’re on iTunes and at hallwaychats.com.
Liam: Better yet, ask your WordPress friends and colleagues to join us on the show. Encourage them to complete the “Be on the show” form on our site, to tell us about themselves.